While everyone is celebrating the upcoming 40th birthday of Title IX, shouldn't we also hold a funeral for men's sports?
I hate to rain on the party (not really), but if Title IX is gender equity (it isn't), then we should look at the effects of the law from the men's side, too.
But first, a disclaimer: If you try to turn this into a rant against women's sports, you're missing the point. I've coached both female and male high school athletes in track and field since 1990. I've coached hundreds of girls and seen sports change their lives for better in many ways. I've seen girl athletes produce great performances. I've seen girls with the heart of Secretariat and the toughness of a linebacker, including one who went airborne like Superman to edge a rival at the finish line.
It's amazing to remember that high school sports didn't even exist when I was a teenager. There are generations of women who never experienced sweat and competition and hard physical training and being part of a team and all the other benefits of competitive athletics (then again, maybe some of my girl athletes tell their mothers they're lucky they never had to do 8 x 400 meters in 72-75 seconds with two minutes rest).
All this notwithstanding, the way Title IX has been interpreted is wrong, period.
The original law, as passed in 1972, stated, "no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance."
But that is exactly what is happening in collegiate sports, except now it's the men who are being denied opportunities and subjected to discrimination.
That's because in 1979 the Office of Civil Rights interpreted the law to mean strict proportionality — in other words, if a school's enrollment was 51 percent women and 49 percent men, then athletic scholarships and spending should be exactly the same.
And yet the original Title IX law, passed in 1972, required that schools examine "whether the selection of sports and levels of competition effectively accommodate the interests and abilities of members of both sexes."
It also states that the law should not "be interpreted to require any education institution to grant preferential or disparate treatment to one sex on account of an imbalance which may exist" in the numbers of each sex participating in a sport.
That is exactly what has happened.
Universities have been running scared ever since and become remarkably creative in the process. They've scrambled to even up the numbers because a) football has 100 or so players on the roster and there isn't a women's football team, and b) there isn't as much interest in athletics among females.
Hundreds of men's programs have been cut to even the percentages of women vs. men in participation. According to one report, between 1981 and 1999, universities eliminated 171 men's wrestling teams, 84 men's tennis teams, 56 men's gymnastics teams, 27 men's track teams and 25 men's swimming teams. For every female athlete gained, 3.6 men were lost
Universities have felt compelled to manufacture ways to increase the number of female athletes, such as adding women's teams for equestrian, rowing and even competitive cheer. Meanwhile, they have adhered to proportionality so strictly that football teams are even limited in the number of walk-ons they can keep on the roster — players who will play without a scholarship simply because they love the game.
Does any of this reflect interest and need? Does this sound like the law was interpreted to require an "institution to grant preferential or disparate treatment to one sex on account of an imbalance which may exists"?
There were 3,382 prep wrestlers in Utah in 2010-11 — but only one collegiate wrestling team remains in the state (Utah Valley University).
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